OTTAWA - Dany Heatley's status as Senator remained up in the air on the eve of training camp but his teammates insist his status among them hasn't been affected by his public demand for a trade out of Ottawa.
"How things have gone down, maybe it's going to leave a bit of a black mark (on Heatley's reputation), but he's not a bad teammate," Senators centre Jason Spezza said Friday morning at the team's annual charity golf tournament.
The event serves as the unofficial kickoff to training camp, which gets underway Saturday.
"He's asked for a trade now, so maybe it's skewed some people's ideas of it, but he's never been a bad teammate," Spezza continued. "He's not a bad guy at all."
While fans in Ottawa and Edmonton - both teams that have had their off-season plans affected by Heatley - may disagree with that statement, the players who have been dealing with the distraction all summer will try to get on with things when they report to Scotiabank Place for medicals and testing on Saturday.
Late Thursday night, a report that a three-team deal involving Ottawa, the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings broke, but was denied by all those involved.
So Heatley, who earlier this summer used the no-movement clause in his US$7.5-million-per-year contract to veto a move to the Oilers, was expected to show up at Sens camp on Saturday.
"I don't know if it's just going to be a 'Welcome back,' but it won't be as hard as people think it's going to be," said Spezza."We're used to stuff happening all the time and hearing about guys wanting to get traded or wanting more ice time or this or that. There's always something that goes on inside the locker-room, so we'll be fine dealing with that, Dany's going to be fine."
Spezza was married this summer but his friend Heatley did not attend the wedding because he didn't want to be a distraction. Heatley didn't attend the golf tournament Friday either. Senators GM Bryan Murray was also absent.
"I think you more guys are a little more excited to talk to him (Heatley) than most guys," centre Mike Fisher joked with reporters. "It'll just be business as usual, for us anyways."
Heatley's absence Friday didn't stop his impending return from being a distraction, and it'll likely be one for a while.
"I'd much rather not have it, of course," Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson said. "But at the same time, it's part of the business. When you're playing like we did last year, when you're struggling, it's a distraction to answer the same questions every day as well.
"We'll deal with early on here and then move on. We'll make the best of the situation."
Despite Alfredsson's attempt to talk with Heatley earlier this summer after the disgruntled left-winger's trade request became public, the two had yet to speak.
Still, Alfredsson said he's not taking it personally and that Heatley won't need to say much to clear the air in the Senators dressing room.
"Now that he's here and when he's here, that he's going to work hard and be a good teammate I think that's all we need to hear and want to hear," Alfredsson said.
The Senators aren't concerned about his commitment to the team if they do begin the season with him back in the lineup.
"I'm 100-per-cent sure he'll give 110-per-cent (effort). He'll be a good player for us," winger Jarkko Ruutu said.
Heatley initially cited his diminishing role with the Senators, particularly since Cory Clouston took over as coach in February after Craig Hartsburg was fired, as the reason for his trade request. He's since hinted there may be more to the story.
Whatever his reasons, Clouston also isn't taking it personally and said the Senators will do their best to minimize the distraction and not let it interrupt preparation for the new campaign.
The Senators finished last season strongly under Clouston and, with a new No. 1 goaltender in Pascal Leclaire and the addition of talented veteran Alex Kovalev, there is hope in Ottawa of brighter things ahead for this year.
"(Heatley) is part of this team right now, albeit kind of a disgruntled member of our team, but I think everybody else has to realize that this became public," said Clouston. "There are a lot of teams that have players that maybe aren't necessarily happy throughout the season and there's been things that maybe weren't such a public display. Things were worked out and teams became stronger because of it.
"This happens to be on public display and we have to do our work kind of in front of the cameras. But we feel that we can still make this work and that's our job to make this work."
The Senators will practise Sunday and Monday before opening the exhibition season Tuesday night in Halifax against the Florida Panthers.
They're hoping that the return of game action will give fans and the media something else to talk about, although Ottawa plays its first game at Scotiabank Place one night later. If Heatley is still a Senator, that could provide home fans their first opportunity to voice their feelings toward him.
"We're not going to change how we're coaching camp to try and cater to maybe protecting him," Clouston said. "He'll play at home, he'll play on the road."